Page last updated at 20:22 GMT, Monday, 11 January 2010

Five men guilty of threats at Luton homecoming parade

Anti-war protesters

There were angry scenes as the soldiers passed

Five Muslim men who protested at a home-coming parade in Luton where soldiers were called murderers have been convicted of being abusive.

The charges related to a march by The Royal Anglian Regiment through the town in March 2009.

The five men, all from Luton, were convicted of using threatening, abusive or insulting words and behaviour likely to cause harassment and distress.

Two men were cleared of all charges at Luton Magistrates' Court.

Jalal Ahmed, 21, Yousaf Bashir, 29, Ziaur Rahman, 32, Shajjadar Choudhury, 31, Munim Abdul, 28, were found guilty.

(Top, lef to right) Jalal Ahmed,  Ziaur Rahman and Yousaf Bashir (bottom, left to right) Shajjadar Choudhary and Munim Abdul
The men's lawyers argued the right to freedom of speech was at stake

Ibrahim Anderson, 32, and Jubair Ahmed, 19, who are also from Luton, were found not guilty. All had denied the charges.

The five convicted men were given two-year conditional discharges and were ordered to pay costs of £500 each.

District Judge Carolyn Mellanby said: "I have no doubt it is abusive and insulting to tell soldiers to 'Go to hell' - to call soldiers murderers, rapists and baby killers.

"It is not just insulting to the soldiers but to the citizens of Luton who were out on the streets that day to honour and welcome soldiers home.

"Citizens of Luton are entitled to demonstrate their support for the troops without experiencing insults and abuse."

Distress to others

She went on: "The fact that they say they did not intend their remarks to be insulting does not amount to defence in law.

"They were fully aware that shocking phrases in such circumstances would inevitably cause distress."

Supt Mark Turner, of Bedfordshire Police, said: "We acknowledge that while the events of 10 March attracted high-profile media coverage and generated a lot of public anger, we must point out that our investigation was proportionate and fair to ensure the legal process was followed and maintained.

"It is also important to remind everyone that this incident involved a very small number of individuals who are not representative of and do not have the support of the Muslim community who live in the town."

If you believe in freedom of speech you have to accept that some things will be said that you will not like
Sonal Dashani, defence lawyer

Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) lawyer Paul Harrison said: "It is always a difficult job to balance the rights of those wishing to express their views on political issues against the need to protect the public from distress and alarm.

"We welcome District Judge Mellany's finding that their conduct was threatening and did in fact cause alarm and distress to others present at the parade."

Defence lawyers had argued the right to freedom of speech was at stake and Jubair Ahmed's lawyer Sonal Dashani had referred to the French philosopher Voltaire.

He said: "Voltaire said 'I disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it'.

"That was in the 18th Century. Things have moved on since then, though perhaps not as quickly as one might have liked.

"If you believe in freedom of speech you have to accept that some things will be said that you will like and some things will be said that you will not like."

Angry scenes broke out during the parade for the 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, known as The Poachers.

Lawyers defending the men said their clients discussed their plans to protest with police beforehand, had agreed to a time and a place to do so with them, had complied with police throughout and officers had not objected at the time to their slogans.

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